That moment you stand five feet away from a giant crocodile while walking through a mangrove forest in the dark of night is the moment you learn a new kind of fear. You stare into its beady, glowing eyes knowing it could be on you faster than you could even think about running away.
“That’s el jefe [Spanish for ‘the boss’],” our guide Adonis informed our group, comprised of four tourists and another guide. “She is the grandmother of these waters and keeps the other crocodiles in line.”
Not exactly comforting words as I stood on a narrow trail – used by crocodiles and caimans to get from one pond to another – unable to move forward because the rest of the group had stopped to look at a frog, and unwilling to move backwards into total darkness all alone. As softly as I could, not wanting to startle the giant, 40 year-old dinosaur made of muscle who was keeping a careful eye on me, I asked if the group could please move forward in order that I wouldn’t die.
“Don’t worry,” Adonis said, “these crocodiles know me. They won’t hurt you as long as you’re with me.” Yeah right. As if the killing instincts of a prehistoric animal would be thwarted by his friendly demeanour. Also, it was just a short while before that he asked us all to step back from the water as he waded in and, gently, grabbed a baby crocodile from its mother (the baby was returned to its mother shortly:). Still, we all survived our two hour hike through this mini forest that comprised Adonis’ backyard.
This night hike in Puerto Jiménez, Costa Rica, was organised by Mike Boston of Osa Aventura. Mike is well known in Puerto Jiménez and can help you arrange any kind of eco tour. While Mike did not lead this hike himself, he enlisted the help of two other guides in the area. Marcelo speaks English and is a biologist specialising in reptiles and amphibians. Adonis is a knowledgeable local whose favourite activity is to walk through the woods at night looking for animals. Adonis has not only named all of the crocodiles and caimans in the area, he regularly walks these woods filled with poisonous and deadly animals– as he did the night of our hike – barefoot.
While the crocodiles and caimans were one of the highlights on our hike, we saw plenty of other animals as well. There are numerous bugs and insects in the forest. We saw spiders, centipedes, stingless bees, and leaf-cutter ants. Supposedly, the fungus the ants cultivate is a direct descendant of the original fungus of the area. The ants have a symbiotic relationship with fungus and, when one ant leaves to start a new colony, it takes a piece of the existing fungus with it.
We also came across numerous species of frogs, including the famous red-eyed tree frog – the mascot of Costa Rica. Yet another highlight was when we crossed paths with a Jesus Christ Lizard. I had only ever seen these on nature documentaries, and it was adorable watching this male lizard run on its hind legs. I may have squealed a little bit when it ran into my leg.
If you only do one hike in Costa Rica, and you should definitely do more, I highly recommend a night hike with Osa Aventura. We had a small, personalised tour with very knowledgeable guides who were happy to keep walking for as long as we wanted to. You would think a tour such as this would be pricey, but the cost was only about $20 USD (plus a tip for the guides).
Note: On the rare occasion there was any direct interaction with the wildlife, the guides conducted themselves ethically and respect for the animals and the environment was always the priority.
Looking for a place to stay in Puerto Jiménez? Check out our review of Cabinas Jiménez.
Save to Pinterest!